Deborah Jump 2016

They didn’t know whether to “fuck me or fight me”: An ethnographic account of North Town boxing gym

Dr Deborah Jump

Boxing is – to borrow Goffman’s terminology – ‘where the action is’, a universe in which the smallest of actions becomes ‘fateful’, which is both exciting and problematic for the individuals involved (1967: 174). Referring to my recent ethnography conducted in an inner-city boxing gym in the north of England, this paper illustrates core observations from fieldwork in the ‘North Town’ boxing gym, and reflexively comments on the intricacies and personal relationships of the men in this social world. During the six months that I spent in the field of amateur and professional boxing it became increasingly evident that the gym was an important, exciting, and valuable space for the men who attended. I therefore reflect on the appealing nature and social hierarchy of boxing for the men in this study, and discuss how the gym seemingly offers routes into employment while providing status- affirming attributes for those who attend. Secondly, I examine how the structured activity of the gym environment has the potential to promote desistance from crime, by detaining and incapacitating men when they may otherwise be involved in criminal behaviour.


Deborah is a lecturer in criminology at Manchester Metropolitan University and has over ten years experience of working in youth justice as both a practitioner and service manager. She has extensive experience of policy design and evaluation, having designed and managed a Home Office pilot programme between 2003-2006. She is also in receipt of the Winston Churchill Memorial Fund that saw her evaluate the impact of sporting programmes on communities in the U.S.A. Deborah’s current research area specifically focuses on sport and desistance from crime, and she has recently completed an ethnography looking at the impact of boxing on young offender’s attitudes towards violent crime. Deborah is a qualified youth worker and has managed and implemented sporting programmes such as Splash and Positive Futures, during her time working in youth services. She also has links with the local community in Manchester, and consults with local and national voluntary/statutory organisations concerning sport’s efficacy and impact. Her publications include expert comments on the subject of sport and desistance from crime, and she writes extensively on qualitative research methods and national sporting policy evaluation.